By Joelyn Betz
On November 30th I was in Salt Lake City, just hours away from flying home to Eagle River via Anchorage.
At 11:40 am Utah time, I missed the first call. Fortunately, a minute or so later, I caught the second call. The voice on the other end said, “we’ve just had the worst earthquake we’ve ever had.” As my heart began to race, there was unexpected calmness in the voice of my son, Caleb, a senior at Chugiak High school who had overslept and was home that morning.
All my mama bear instincts kicked into high gear, envisioning 100 different damage scenarios, to my kid and the house, all at once. And then he was gone, the call dropped. Pure panic set in. I called back, the call wouldn’t go through. Please, let him be ok, I prayed. The landline, I thought! This is why I pay that $10 a month for a landline we never use so that in an earthquake we’d still have a phone after all the cell towers are down. I dialed it. “We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed at this time.” Honestly, I don’t recall if it actually said that, or if the inability to get through pulled that antiquated, automated operator reply from my 70’s child brain. Either way, the landline wasn’t working.
Mercifully, he called back on the cell again. Another quake. Again, an unexpected calm came through the line. I asked, “are you ok?” He was fine. Lots of stuff broken. “Do you have shoes on?”
“Mom, I don’t even know where shoes are. Where’re some matches for a candle?” he asked. The scene spilled through my imagination. It’s was dark, things were broken, bare feet, more quakes to come.
“Caleb, there’s a backpack under my bed, my side, towards the end. There’s a flashlight and some emergency supplies in there,” I said, miraculously keeping the rising panic from my voice.
Seconds later, “how did you even get this thing under here?” he asked as he struggled to yank it out. The call dropped again. Note to self: repack emergency backpack to come out from under bed easier.
Just get me home, just get me home, was all I could pray. How bad was the airport? The roads?
Having lost road access months before due to an overloaded truck hitting an overpass, the great Eagle River Bridge-Mageddon of 2018, I knew how vulnerable our city was to being completely cut off. (By the way, has anyone thanked that truck driver for the excellent emergency preparedness drill he provided??)
Minutes ticked by, and the phone rang, but FaceTime this time. How in the world was FaceTime getting through? I quickly answered, so grateful to see my son’s face and blessing technology. It was spotty service, but I could see him, and he was in one piece. One slice of panic was gone. It was still dark. He was using the flashlight he’d found in the backpack to shine light into various rooms. The flashlight revealed closets dumped, things off the walls and dishes were broken.
We ran through all the immediate precautions. Do you smell gas? No. Is there water leaking anywhere? No. Does the house have any obvious structural damage? No. Ok, another slice of panic peeled away. The call dropped again.
Please Lord, protect him and get me home! Two thousand miles seemed an impossible distance away.
Moments like these, when I feel so helpless, so out of control, is when my faith is tested.
I did make it home late that night. It was one of the longest days of my life, not knowing if the airport would remain open, or if the roads would be passable. Was I going to be stuck in Seattle? Anchorage? I just desperately wanted to be home. I prayed for strength, for patience, for faith, for my family, my home and my community.
My faith grew in my son, as I watched him meet a terrifying situation with maturity, clarity, and kindness.
Not long after he secured things at our house, he left to check on an elderly couple a few doors down and help them clean up. He also rescued one of his friends, who needed a ride and whose dad was stuck in Anchorage. After safely delivering his friend home, he then stayed to help clean up their house.
My faith grew in our community, as just minutes after the quake, my son got a call from one of his friends, making sure he was ok. Family friends and our church community called him, came by, invited him and the pets over. They also reached out to me to see how they could help. Moms who knew how desperate I must have felt, also reached out to offer their faith, their love, and support.
I have been astounded at the kindness, patience, and generosity, we as a community have shown each other in the aftermath of the earthquake.
In a world where we can feel so divided politically, religiously, economically and socially, this community has restored my faith in humanity. I’m a firm believer that in every crisis, in every trial, we can choose to learn and grow or choose negativity and defeat. Our community chose to rise from the rubble with dignity, compassion, charity, and kindness, and I’m honored to call our community my home and feel anchored in the faith we have in each other.